Nothing has changed this month in Rio Rancho Public Schools when it comes to enrollment: It’s still down, and it’s likely to cost the district an estimated $4.5 million for the 2021-22 school year, depending upon enrollment changes.

The district is already dealing with $7.3 million less from the state for the current school year, unless more money from the state or federal government comes and offsets the loss.

According to a report prepared by Kim Vesely, the district’s special projects and district analyst, enrollment was down by 551 students as of Aug. 24, the school board’s most recent meeting.

“The actual percentage loss in student enrollment overall is only about 3.2 percent,” Vesely explained in an email to the Observer. “Elementary is down 6.5 percent and middle 5.1 percent; high school is up — 2.4 percent.”

There are 5,584 high school students, with Cleveland High overtaking older Rio Rancho High School; 3,901 middle-school students; 6,998 elementary students; and 566 students headed to Shining Stars Preschool.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland surmised the increase in enrollment at CHS is due to the new housing developments, as any drive west of CHS to the Cleveland Heights subdivision or on Broadmoor, between Idalia Road and Paseo del Volcan, show.

Vesely said that after the oil market, COVID and the economy crashed, and legislature came back in June and cut the budget.

“That cut is quite substantial: The unit value dropped from $4,758.10 (March) to $4,531.74 (June), a reduction per unit of $226.36,” she wrote.

Students are weighted differently in “unit value,” she said, depending on their individual needs and the costs to provide services. For example, high school students are generally weighted higher than elementary kids because high school classes cost more to deliver. Students with severe disabilities are weighted higher than those without.

In addition, districts receive additional “program” units for at-risk, extended-learning, growth, fine arts, home-school student taking public-school classes and more. RRPS’s units for fiscal year 2021 total 32,467.757, Vesely said.

The $4.5 million figure is a rough calculation of revenue loss based on the current decline in enrollment.

“If enrollment increases, as we think it might once students are able to return to classrooms and/or we see growth in Rio Rancho’s population, the hit would be less,” Vesely wrote.

“As Dr. Cleveland noted, the $4.5 million hit due to enrollment would be in addition to the $7.3 reduction in the unit value, making the total hit as much as $11.8 million.”

In other matters, the board:

• OK’d the upcoming sale of $15 million in general-obligation bonds, a quarter of the $60 million in bonds approved by voters in 2019;

• Heard second readings for four policies (1000, “Compulsory School Attendance”; 1002, “Progressive Interventions for Absent Students”; 1004, Title IX; and 808, “Armed School Security Personnel.” All are available on the RRPS website, rrps.net;

• Heard a first reading for Policy 750, “COVID-19 Pandemic.”

• Approved a draft resolution penned by board member Catherine Cullen, referring to declining enrollment and encouraging “the governor and the New Mexico Legislature to hold school districts and charter schools harmless from the prior year enrollment provisions of the funding formula for the duration of the public-health emergency and for a sufficient period of time afterwards, once children can return to school, to allow enrollment to stabilize.”

Of the 124 public comments received by the board members, 69 favored the hybrid approach and returning to school as early as Sept. 8; 40 said they preferred the continuation of the virtual-only format.

The board meets again in a virtual session at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14.

Here’s the way the cafeteria at Enchanted Hills Elementary will look to students when they return there on Sept. 8. Students will all be facing the same direction on one side of the lunch tables, spaced 6 feet apart. Courtesy photo.